Near East Neighbors Address Crime In Area Hand-On In Safety Strategy

Neighborhood Leaders, Mayoral and Council Candidates Attend Press Conference

The Summer of 2010 was dubbed by local media as "The Summer of Violence".

In recent months, the Near East and Near South Sides of Columbus have heard more gunshots and sirens, and many residents in the Near East and Near South sides are fed-up with the violence plaguing their neighborhoods.

In the Oct. 18 Columbus Dispatch, Dispatch writer Doug Caruso quoted Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther (D) viewing a press conference on a crime fighting strategy in the Near East and Near South Sides of Columbus as a "political stunt."

On YouTube, a rebuttal to Ginther's comment was posted, saying "We have a great community, but these issues are strangling our community's growth and scaring our residents [...] and you have the nerve to label our calls for help 'a political stunt'."

Columbus Compact Corporation CEO Jonathan Beard, past Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association (OTENA) President Mike Moore, and Co-Chair of the Olde Towne East Blockwatch Kathy Webb led this press conference on the Near East Side and Near South Side's Public Safety Strategy in the conference room of the Columbus Compact Corporation on East Main Street.

The area of East Main Street (between 18th St. and Fairwood Ave.) is the main epicenter of an overwhelming majority of the deadly shootings, drug deals, and prostitution that takes place in the Near East Side.

In the last several weeks, there were 30 shootings in the area surrounding Broad Street, Parsons Avenue, Frebis Avenue, and Alum Creek.

Of those 30 shootings, seven of them were fatalities, most recently, an area high school football athlete on Oct. 7 near the area of Frebis and Wilson Avenues. On Oct. 14, two elderly people, including an 81 year-old man watching TV in his house, were shot by bullets intended for other people.

The Olde Towne East Blockwatch has placed cameras on Main Street between 17th Street and Wilson Avenue since 2007.

Most recently, on Sept. 9, the camera at the intersection of Main Street and Champion Avenue recorded the murder of 22 year-old Dominique Johnson in the middle of the street.

"I heard the killing (of Johnson) as I was about to get ready to go to bed," Webb said. "I heard the round of gunfire, and then I heard silence, and then I heard sirens, and then I knew that someone had been shot."

On Sept. 29, Beard, Moore, and Webb met with City Council to address the issue of crime in the Near East and Near South areas, and according to Moore and Webb, they got little to no assistance from City Council President Ginther and Councilwoman and Public Safety Chair Michelle M. Mills (D).

"It's not safe to live here, to work here, or to play here," Webb added. "It's only a matter of time before an innocent person is struck by bullets."

Webb called the recent uptick of crime in the neighborhoods as an "epidemic, a gang war, and urban terrorism", and used the analogy of an epidemic to illustrate a point.

"If 30 people in this area were diagnosed (with a deadly disease), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health would be active in helping if 30 people had the same disease. The Department of Health and Human Services would be here," Webb said.

Webb added that Mayor Michael Coleman (D)'s Small Gang Taskforce Unit does not fit the needs of Coleman's "Safe City" initiative, citing the cost on the victims, the victims families, and the police and justice resources.

"If we don't take care of this now, this will hurt our society huge," Webb said.

Moore and Webb cited the performance of Mills in her capacity as the Public Safety chair.

"We need a (City) Council to act upon what they are going to do," Moore said. "The more you don't address the issue, the louder we become. The stronger we become."

Beard cited one of the recent homicide victims, a 22 year-old man, who was a career criminal, with 22 criminal cases in the last four years. Beard stated that the victim, whose name was not revealed, jumped bond three times, and was videotaped on Aug. 19 selling drugs on Main Street. Not too long after that video was shot, the young man in question was murdered.

"He traveled to our neighborhood," Beard said, citing that the young man did not live in either the Near East or Near South Side.

Three of the challenging candidates for Columbus City Council- Matt Ferris (R), Daryl Hennessy (R), and Robert Bridges (L), and Mayoral Candidate Earl W. Smith (R) attended this press conference and addressed the approximately 30 people in attendance, most of whom were concerned citizens who either live or work in the area.

Smith, a former police officer for 33 years, had worked the mean streets of neighborhoods including the Short North and Olde Towne East.

"We are losing our city," Ferris proclaimed at the press conference, citing the lack of power change in City Hall.

Ferris cited the power control of the City as an issue in fighting crime in the neighborhood.

"There are power runners who run this city", Ferris added. We need to wake up and get these (power runners) out (of office)."

127 Near East and Near South area residents filled out a survey recently that addressed issues in the area, and the results were included in a press packet handed out at the press conference.

Of those who filled out the survey, 73 percent of the people live in Olde Towne East, over 26 percent in Franklin Park, over 17 percent in Old Oaks, 15 percent live in the South of Main blockwatch area, and 11 percent in the Driving Park neighborhood.

An overwhelming 89 percent of those who responded to the survey said that Main Street was an issue, with the intersections of Ohio and Champion being the epicenter of those crimes with an astounding 83 percent of responses in the survey.

Tied in to the crime on Main Street, 55 percent of people responded that the D.B.A. Super Saver Mart at 1130 E. Main St. is a high contribution to crime and almost half of people responded that Sam's Market at 1075 E. Main St. is a high contribution to crime as well.

Over 98 percent said that illegal drugs and criminal gun violence are issues in the area and that not enough is being done by local elected officials in their neighborhoods.

82 percent of people who responded believe that the City's Public Safety and Judiciary Committee should have the primary responsibility for leading efforts to design solutions for the crime in their neighborhoods.

"We can't continue to live in a city like this for four more years. We deserve the respect, we deserve the dignity of people living Downtown or anywhere else," Moore said.

SURVEY RESULTS: Columbus Compact Corporation (